Tuesday, June 2, 2009
We are back in Manhattan now. Anna has recuperated and is back to her usual self. Thankfully, we got home without any messy incidents on the train. Whew! One week later, a new camera in my bag, I am ready to head back out into the world of yarns. I was going to blog yesterday (Monday), as I usually do, so I went to Knitting 321 (321 East 75th Street, New York, NY 10021, Phone: 212-772-2020, Fax: 212-772-2077 http://www.knitting321.com/), only to see that it is closed Sundays and Mondays. Oops--that’s what I get for not calling ahead :-). One day delayed, I managed to eke out a 1 ½ hour window for myself. I took the M3 downtown and hopped off at East 75th street, walking and walking and walking, until I found myself in front of a blue awning with large letters (I’m sorry, I totally forgot to take a picture of the outside of the store). I walked down a steep staircase and entered a long, narrow store, lined with diamond shaped shelves on one side and a large table with piles of magazines on it on the other. I introduced myself to Valeria, who was chatting with three loyal customers.
(picture taken from her website)
The three women, who seemed to know each other (and Valeria) very well, were knitting at the table. They chimed in at my questions, got up and showed me store samples, and shared their individual projects: a very pretty cotton baby blanket, a very sexy black glitter sweater with arm cutouts, and a project not yet conceived. All patterns were created by Valeria (the third woman had just chosen her yarn and was making a gauge before she was measured for the perfect fit). Valeria told me that most patterns in knitting magazines look great in the pictures, but end up being too wide because the yarn stretches over time. She takes this into consideration when creating patterns for her customers. Her extensive design background is very helpful for this. “I worked on 7th Avenue for many, many years. If I had made anything that did not fit when it came back from the factory, I would have lost my job immediately,” she explained.
321 is clearly a neighborhood store. “My customers shop at Bergdorf Goodman,” Valeria explained. “Some of them are top executives. They knit a lot, and they want me to make them patterns for sweaters that look like they could have been bought at Bergdorf, but can be made at home. I don’t really compete with other knitting stores--I compete with Bergdorf Goodman.” She pulled out a sample of a sweater a woman had made. “This woman only knew how to knit,” she said (not purl). “So she knitted the sweater in only knit stitches, and I did the finishing for her.” The sweater (where was my head today, I forgot to take a picture of that, too), was made out of a shiny gold-woven yarn. Beige leather flowers adorned the shoulder, and beautiful crocheted embroidery made it look as though indeed, you could have bought it at the above-mentioned store. “I bought the leather flowers and wanted to make a bag out of it, but my customers said this has to be a sweater." The three women nodded.
“We told her,” one of them said. “Why waste those beautiful things on a bag? Put them on a sweater!”
My little window of time was getting smaller, so I asked Valeria my seven questions:
Me: When did you open the store?
Valeria: Seven years ago, in April of 2002.
Me: What made you choose this location?
Valeria: I live around here.
Me: Who is your staff?
Valeria: I have part time help on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays, but the rest of the time I am here alone.
Me: What made you get into yarns?
Valeria: I have always worked with yarns and color. I designed fashion and sportswear. We made everything from scratch. We would choose a color palette and design a complete line around it: pants, blazers, skirts… it all had to fit together. [She sighed.] 7th Avenue is not what it used to be, so I thought about what I could do as a second career.
Me: What do you look for when you purchase yarns?
Valeria: Color and quality. I buy what I like. I custom order colors from Prism and other companies. I know what my customers like. The key to everything is quality. You have to make a good product.
Me: I assume I don’t have to ask who makes your store samples.
Valeria: I make them, and I have a knitter.
One of the women chimed in: “Valeria is a fabulous finisher.” I believe that, having seen the sample sweater with the leather flowers.
“But,” Valeria resumed, “I only finish what was purchased here. It is so much work to finish. I don’t finish other stores’ products.”
Me: Do you offer classes?
Valeria: I teach classes in knitting and crocheting one on one in the mornings, but I am totally booked up until the end of August. If you asked me right now to teach you, I would have to ask you to come back in September. I design for all my customers. They buy the yarn, make a gauge, I measure them and write their patterns. [She held up a handwritten piece of paper.] This is a pattern. I write everything by hand. People can follow it and not have to think once about what they are doing. All my patterns look like this. [She smiled.] What I make fits!
Me: Do you think people knit more or less since the recession?
Valeria: That is a hard question to answer. I think things are not as busy as they were when I first opened. In the last two years things have gotten a bit more quiet.
“But,” one of the women said, “people are much more serious about their knitting than they used to be. All the mitten makers and blanket knitters have fallen away. The customers that are still knitting are very serious about their projects.” The other woman agreed.
I had some time left, so I took out my camera to take pictures of the store. 321 carries Karabella, Schulana, Katia, Noro, Punta yarns, Alchemy, and Prism. “This is one of the yarns I asked them to make,” Valeria said and pulled out a red, variegated yarn. It was stunningly vibrant.
“You have to take a picture of the baby blanket,” one of the woman said and got up. “Here, I know where it is.” She walked to the back of the store and pulled out a very beautiful and delicate blanket covered with hearts.
And this is the sampler,” she said, holding up another blanket with different stitch pattern squares.
“Show her the bag you did at the door,” the woman with the sexy black sweater said.
Valeria held it up. The bag was beautifully lined on the inside, with an inlay of something hard and flat supporting the bottom. “Oh, and you have to see this,” Valeria said and strode to the back of the store. “Here,” she pulled a jacket off its hanger. “Try it on. Its magnificent! It’s a circle jacket I just made. It is knitted entirely in one piece. “ I felt the yarn. It was very soft and, I could tell, very warm. I tried it on. It felt just as snugly as it looked.